By Mallory Sherwood, Features Editor
When Angie Hernandez was a child, someone made a difference in her life.
Now it is her turn to give back to the community she grew up in.
A recent graduate of ACU, Hernandez, now the matching enrollment specialist for Abilene’s Big Brother Big Sisters, is part of a team of individuals reaching out to Abilene’s children and finding them mentors.
Their first stop this spring: ACU.
More than 200 students from ACU responded to the organization’s request to be mentors to a child after Janet Ardoyno, executive director of Abilene’s Big Brothers Big Sisters, spoke in Chapel on Jan. 25.
“ACU students are always good to step up when they know the need,” Ardoyno said. “We had an opportunity to share our need, and they definitely responded.”
Ardoyno said the group’s goal was to have 60 students sign up that week. More than 175 signed up immediately after Chapel in the Campus Center.
The group plans to have students matched by the middle of February so the students can spend at least three months this semester with the child, Ardoyno said.
Parents, school counselors and teachers refer the children, ages 5 to 15, to Big Brothers Big Sisters. They come from low-income homes that usually have only one parent, Ardoyno said.
Some also come from abusive homes, homes where one parent is in prison, where they are raised by grandparents, or some have learning disabilities.
“We are able to put wonderful … Christians who have great stories to share with these kids,” Ardoyno said. “This also gives these children a chance to see college life, talk to college students and let them see that they, too, can go to college.”
Hernandez was once one of these children.
“When I was younger, my Big Sister went to ACU,” Hernandez said. “It was the first time I stepped foot on a university campus, and even though I don’t remember her name, I do remember ACU, and that is when I realized I really wanted to go.
“And now, I have just graduated from ACU, so that dream was fulfilled without her even knowing it.”
She said this dream makes her an influence to her own Little Sister, Amanda Cruz, a seventh-grader from Mann Middle School.
“I, too, want to instill some values and principles, and especially education in her,” Hernandez said. “She’ll be the first one that will hopefully graduate; you can see that she is going somewhere. I want to inspire her to pursue a higher education.”
Hernandez has been Cruz’s Big Sister for three years now, and they have both seen the changes their relationship has made.
“She is better mannered; she often reminds me of my manners, and we keep each other accountable,” Hernandez said. “She is really patient with me, and I’ve learned to be more responsible in making sure I call her and being more of a friend instead of seeing this as an obligation.
“Amanda is inspired to go to college and has made future plans. She has more confidence in herself.”
Through the years, Big Brothers Big Sisters has grown from having no matches in 1998 to matching more than 700 pairs a year just five years later, and the city has seen dramatic results.
“It is amazing what just having a friend that they can call their own will do,” Ardoyno said. “It does great things for their self-confidence.
“In the lunch buddies program, we see their grades go up, school attendance and classroom behaviors increase, simply because they have someone there for them. We see them changing from the wrong way to the right way, making better decisions, making career decisions, seeing the importance of staying in school.”
Karla Howerton is one of the students who has been a match.
“I am really excited to be a Big [Sister] again,” said Howerton, sophomore English education major from Dennison. “Freshman year I had an eighth grader named Ashley as a buddy. She was quiet and sweet, liked to laugh, but it really took awhile for her to open up. I remember one day she wore an ACU shirt someone in her family had and was so excited for me to see her wearing it.”
Howerton’s buddy moved to the high school and was unable to continue meeting this year. Howerton now is one of the hundreds of ACU students who signed up after Chapel last week.
“I think that it is a great opportunity to get to know a kid, to make a difference in their life and to have fun,” Howerton said. “[The volunteers] should be good with kids and enjoy being around them. They need to be a positive role model, an encourager and someone who is excited to be involved.”
Ardoyno said taking a chance to be a role model in a child’s life makes the difference.
“It really does make a measurable difference,” Ardoyno said. “We have outcomes that prove what all can be done through just mentoring.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters programs and opportunities
* Lunch buddies meet 30 minutes a week during the student’s lunch period.
* Community-based match is six to eight hours a month, and the volunteer does activities with the child or just hangs out with their friends.
* Club buddies is through the Boys and Girls Club, and students meet there once a week.
* Art buddies allows matches to take art lessons and work on projects together at the Center for Contemporary Arts.
* Golf buddies is a new program for volunteers to take their buddy to the driving range or to the golf course and get to know them better. The goal is to draw more men volunteers.